How do you get a dog to like you?

Recently, I have had several conversations with people who are taking advantage of being at home and considering adopting an older dog. A common question I have been asked, is “how do I get the dog to like me?” The short answer is that there is nothing we can do to MAKE the dog like you.

“Like” is a feeling

The Australian Oxford Dictionary defines “like” as to “find agreeable or satisfactory, feel attracted by, wish for”. Based on this definition, to like or not like something or someone is very subjective and based on how we feel about a person, object or situation. Just like humans, dog’s feelings are based on a range of factors including past experiences, individual preferences, health status, and the presence of other stressors.

Put yourself in the dog’s shoes

Consider this, you are starting a new job. The way you feel about the new job will depend on your experiences in previous jobs. If your past experience was that you were greeted warmly and people were friendly and helpful, then you will likely approach the new job enthusiastically. However, if you had an experience where you felt uncertain, confused and alone when starting a new job, then you may be apprehensive.

Combine past experience with how you are feeling physically. If you have a headache or a cold, then this will influence how you feel about starting the new job.

Other stressors will also affect your feelings about the new job. Consider you have to take public transport to the new workplace and you have never caught a train or bus previously.

Further, if you are a naturally more reserved person who is not comfortable in large groups or meeting new people, then a new job is going to be more stressful than for a naturally gregarious, extrovert who is energised by new people and places.

Factors that influence feelings

Just like us, there are a myriad of factors that will influence how a dog feels about meeting new people. Dogs that are healthy, have only had positive experiences meeting new people and enjoy the company of humans, these dogs will likely display what we consider “normal” dog greeting behaviour: confident and relaxed approach, willingness to be patted and willingness to engage in play behaviour with humans.

However, dogs that are naturally more reserved, are unwell, don’t like people in their space, have not had much experience with people, or worse, they have had negative experiences with people, these are dogs that may not display “normal” greeting behaviour. They may move away from new people, they may freeze, bark, or “stress up” and become frantic.

Approaching a dog that doesn’t like people

As humans, we often want to “make” these dogs like us. We bribe them to come close with treats, we entice them to us with “baby talk”, tell them it is “OK”, reach out to pat them or chastise them for their behaviour. All these approaches do nothing to change the way the dog is feeling. In fact, they can contribute to the dog’s negative experiences with humans. Further, inappropriate interaction like this can be potentially dangerous as our actions could force a “fight (bite) or flight” response in the dog.

With so many factors contributing to our feelings, you can see that changing how a dog (or any animal) feels about a situation may or may not be possible. If the dog’s natural preference / personality is one where they don’t seek out human interaction and need space to feel comfortable, then the likelihood of changing this dog’s response to humans is very low.

However, if past experience, underlying health issues, or other environmental factors play a large role in how the dog feels, then with careful, gentle and methodical “training” and a full health check, the dog may be able to change how they feel about people.

In our next article, I will look at some considerations for personality matching a rescue dog with your family. In the final article in this series, we will cover ways for integrating the “less than ideal” dog into your home.

Teamwork Dogs provides group classes for puppies, adolescents and adult dogs at several locations on the north side of Brisbane.

Image by Viktar Masalovich from Pixabay